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Betsy Nelson: Award recognizes city reading campaign

I am proud to report that the National Civic League has named Baltimore an All-America City to recognize the Baltimore Campaign for Grade-Level Reading as an outstanding example of community problem solving, civic engagement and collaboration among the public, corporate and nonprofit sectors.

For the first time, the annual All-America City award focused on reading. Peer reviewers chose Baltimore from 124 applicants who submitted comprehensive plans to ensure children are proficient readers by the end of third grade.

Education research tells us that proficiency in reading by the end of third grade enables students to shift from learning to read to reading to learn and to master the more complex subject matter they encounter in fourth grade. Most students, especially low-income students, who fail to reach this critical milestone falter in the later grades and often drop out before earning a high school diploma.

The Baltimore Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a collaborative group of funders, nonprofit and public organizations engaged in shared learning and setting priorities for action to ensure that our low-income children succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and active citizenship.

School readiness

Because we know that low-income children have less access to books and may hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their middle-income peers before reaching kindergarten, the Baltimore campaign addresses school readiness.

Because we know that one in 10 kindergarten and first grade students nationwide misses nearly a month of school each year in excused and unexcused absences when reading instruction is a central part of the curriculum, the Baltimore campaign addresses attendance.

And because we know that, without access to the enriching activities available to more-affluent peers, children from low-income families lose as much as three months of reading comprehension skills over the summer, the Baltimore campaign addresses summer learning.

Hoping for dramatic gains

The All-America City awards were presented in Denver during a multi-day conference organized by the National Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, the National Civic League, the National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and United Way Worldwide. Governors, mayors and even Sesame Street’s Zoe were on hand to congratulate and inspire communities across the country.

But now is the time in Baltimore when we need to collectively roll up our sleeves and get to work. Already an unprecedented effort is underway — Baltimore City Super Summer — to ensure that every child has access to learning, meals, reading and other fun activities during the summer.

In 2016, Baltimore will apply again to the National Civic League for recognition of its reading effort. The goal will not be to submit a new plan but to report the dramatic gains in reading proficiency.

Betsy Nelson, president of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, writes every other week for The Daily Record. She can be reached at 410-727-1205 or [email protected]